The Vice Lords have been known by many names and many acts since being founded in the Chicago-area juvenile detention facility at St. Charles around 1957. Also called the Almighty Vice Lords and the Conservative Vice Lord Nation, the gang has morphed from petty crime to drug trafficking to white collar crime over the course of decades.
The gang has consolidated other groups and spread to nearby states, now claiming more than 30,000 members. High-ranking members may be called “Lord Almighty”.
The Vice Lords are known by a variety of names that represent its “sets” or chapters. The Vice Lords are founders of the People Nation, an umbrella organization for a large number of allied gangs. Vice Lords also go by names like Insane Vice Lords, Traveling Vice Lords, Imperial Insane Vice Lords, and more.
Joining the gang and leaving it generally both involve getting a beating from fellow members.
Leadership includes positions called:
Gang symbols that may be seen on graffiti tags and tattoos include a Martini glass, a Playboy bunny, a top hat, and pseudo-Islamic symbols such as a pyramid with an eye above it. They have a complex gang handshake that involves multiple twists and slaps.
Original Vice Lord gang members Alfonso Alfred and Bobby Gore gained notoriety in 1970 for applying for and receiving a Rockefeller Foundation grant that is said to total $275,000 (other sources say the total came from several grants from a variety of organizations). Some derided that funding as a ruse while others see it as a (failed) turning point for the gang and its neighborhood.
In the mid-1960s gang violence around Chicago had reached such a terrible peak that Dr. Martin Luther King moved to the Vice Lords’ Lawndale neighborhood and hosted a gang gathering event in an attempt to quell black-on-black bloodshed. Rioting and looting had torn the neighborhood apart to the point where police found it impossible to work with local residents. Finally, a Chicago alderman, George Collins, found an answer: he offered to help black youth open a restaurant if the turf wars stopped.
At the same time, a white college student studying the issues entered the scene and acted as an emissary to the gang. David Dawley worked with local residents to channel neighborhood redevelopment grants and financial aid for inner city youth into many programs and physical facilities, including a teen center, an ice cream shop, an Afrocentric clothing store, and more in Lawndale. At the same time, smaller gangs were being incorporated into the Vice Lord Nation as subsets.
While the neighborhood revitalization efforts were temporarily successful, they ultimately were undercut by competing for national efforts to curb urban ills. Urban rioting and unrest was common in the mid- and late 1960s, coinciding with the Civil Rights Act and Dr. Martin Luther King’s assassination. These took place in cities of varying sizes from Cairo to Akron to Detroit. At the same time, the Lawndale area was also losing many jobs traditionally held by Black laborers, which added to the unrest.
Over the course of several years, the Almighty Vice Lords became the Conservative Vice Lord Nation, a progressive community activism group that taught residents ways to contact and negotiate with landlords, created job opportunities, and raised public awareness. Some wanted more, however, and due in part to the national trend toward black sovereignty, it is believed that the organization and the neighborhood never had the important structural underpinning to escape its crime- and gang-riddled past. Some point to young, up-and-coming Vice Lords who sought the lawless power of violence over community activism as the reason Lawndale returned to violent chaos; others point to Mayor Richard J. Daley’s 1969 War on Gangs.
In the 1980s many of the Vice Lords adopted Islamic culture, religion, and beliefs, morphing the gang to the Almighty Vice Lord Nation.
The story of one lifelong member, Willie Lloyd, is typical of the Vice Lords: he joined the gang around age 12 and got caught with a bunch of other gang members who were holding up patrons of a Davenport, Iowa hotel in 1971. They were caught, and Lloyd went to prison for 15 years, during which his reputation on the street intensified. Much of his life involved doing time in prison and improving gang finances through extortion and drug trafficking. Then other Vice Lords turned against him when he asserted his leadership, so he became a mediator and college lecturer on the topic of street gangs.
In May 2015, state and federal law enforcement carried out a roundup of six Detroit-area Vice Lord gang members accused of attacking the family of a member who wanted to leave the gang. In that situation, gang members first met to discuss their strategy and gather weapons, then drove to the man’s house and opened fire on several members of his family, wounding them. They were charged with a number of crimes including racketeering.